Living at the edge of the 19th century frontier, husband and wife, Isaac and Lizzy, live in complete seclusion as far as the eye can see until another couple, Gideon and Emma, settle a mile away in a nearby cabin. Unused to the punishing conditions the frontier might yield, the St. Louis bred Gideon and Emma find living without the comforts of urban life challenging and rely on Isaac and Lizzy’s strength and experience for survival. However, the frontier’s harsh reality produces a malevolent presence that flows through the prairie, stalking and toying with the settlers, only revealing itself to Lizzy while the others act if nothing is going on or just acting strange. The sudden and violent death of Emma and her unborn child send Gideon and Isaac on a two-day ride to nearby town, leaving Lizzy to face the isolated terror alone with only a double barrel shotgun that never leaves her side, but in her strife, Lizzy learns more about her newfound neighbors and even unearths some troubling truth about her husband that even further segregates Lizzy from the rest of reality.
If there wasn’t one more single thing to demonize, director Emma Tammi conjures up “The Wind” to mystify the western frontier. As Tammi’s debut directorial, penned by short film screenwriter Teresa Sutherland, the supernatural film’s dubbing could be a rendering of a long lost Stephen King working title, but all corny jokes aside, “The Wind” really could from the inner quailing of Stephen King’s horror show mindset. The film’s produced by Adam Hendricks and Greg Gilreath under their U.S. label, Divide/Conquer, and released in 2018. The same company that delivered the horror anthology sequel “V/H/S: Viral,” Isa Mezzei’s sleeper thriller “CAM,” and the upcoming, second remake of “Black Christmas” with Imogen Poots and Cary Elwes. With a premise dropped right into the fear of the unknown itself and with some powerful production support, “The Wind” should have soared as an unvarnished spook show come hell or high noon, but the jury is hung waiting on the executioners ultimate verdict regarding Tammi’s freshman film.
Five actors make up all the cast of “The Wind,” beginning with the solemn opening night scene with frontier men, Isaac Macklin (Ashley Zukerman of “Fear the Walking Dead”) and Gideon Harper (Dylan McTee of “Midnighters”), waiting patiently outside a cabin door until Isaac’s wife, Lizzy (Caitlin Gerard of “Insidious: The Last Key”) walks out, supposed baby in hand, and covered in blood. The subtle, yet chilling scene sets the movie from the get-go, sparking already a mystery at hand and coveting most of the focused cast. The two characters unannounced at the beginning, swim in and out of flashbacks and toward the progression of Lizzy’s embattlement with “The Wind.” That’s not to say that these characters are any less favorable to the story as “Slender Man’s” Julia Goldani Telles shepherds a vivid description of subtle lust and extreme instability that rocks a strong and self-reliant Lizzy living priorly a stale reality. There’s also the introduction of a wandering and warm pastor that leads to chilling reveal questioning any kind second guesses there might be about Lizzy. All thanks to veteran television actor, Miles Anderson.
“The Wind’s” non-linear narrative teases two courses, one working forward and the other backwards to a catalytic moment that becomes motivational for majority of characters in the prior days and the beginning of the end for one in particular. Though the latter centralizes around Lizzy’s flashbacks and encounters with the evil spectral wind, her descent into madness conjures more violently through the discovery; it’s as if her current state of mind has been stirred, whirled, whipped, tumbled, and agitated from the past that keeps lurking forward into her mind’s eye. Tammi pristinely conveys a subtle message of undertones from the past and present that chip away at Lizzy’s forsaken reality, leaving those around her delicately exposed to her untreated alarms to the nighttime wind of a menacing nature. Teresa Sutherland’s script to story is illuminate tenfold by the wealth in production that recreates the rustic cabins and the callously formed hardships of the western frontier and if you combine that with the talents of cast, “The Wind” will undoubtedly blow you away.
Umbrella Entertainment delivers Emma Tammi’s “The Wind” into the Australian DVD home video market and presented in the original aspect ratio, a widescreen 2.35:1, that develops a hearty American untrodden landscape for the devil to dance in the wind. Cinematographer Lyn Moncrief’s coloring is a bit warm and bland to establish a western movie feel and really had notes of a Robert Eggers (“The Witch”) style in filmmaking with slow churn long shots and a minimalistic mise-en-scene, especially for a similar pseudo-period piece. Eggers invocation solidified itself more so in the Ben Lovett’s crass and cacophony of an instrumental score that adds more to the creepiness factor while remaining relatively framed in the time era. The Umbrella Entertainment’s release goes right into the feature without a static menu so there are no bonus features to dive into. “The Wind” might feel like an unfinished piece of cinematic literature, but remains still a damn fine thriller that seeps ice cold chills into the bones and ponders the effects of loneliness and trauma that’s nearly puts this film into the woman versus nature category, a premise that will be hopefully concluded by a upcoming book adaptation.
In the wake of losing their father and husband, Leah and her mother struggle to cope and are at their wits ends with each other. Leah, an impressionable and angst-filled teen, embraces the occult lifestyle after her father’s untimely death despite her mother’s distaste for it. Leah’s mother also battles the everyday familiar feelings of her constant surroundings that remind her of her dear husband and the sensations compel her to move her and Leah more than an hour away, away from Leah’s only friends including a boy she’s become fond of, but the constant and languishing heated disagreements invoke Leah to act impulsively, gathering her ritual articles, and while in the woods, naively summon a witch, named Pyewacket, to kill her mother. Regretting her actions almost immediately and fearful of what’s to come, Leah is cautiously ever attentive to her surroundings as each passing night a presence makes itself known and is eager to not only harm Leah’s mother, but also intends to rise it’s wickedness toward Leah.
“Pyewacket” is a 2017 Canadian horror-thriller from writer-director Adam MacDonald. The Montreal born MacDonald constructs an impressive and suspense-riddled sophomore film that offers a beautifully bleak atmosphere while touching upon layered themes that are relatable to anyone who grew up with an overbearing parent. “Pyewacket” succeeds as a stark melodrama of a hurting mother and daughter who are looking for some kind of pain relief and a fresh start. MacDonald takes it to the next level, churning out a cautionary tale, by implementing the theme of being careful for what you wish for because you just might get it. Oh, and there’s spine-tingling moments involving a ghoulish witch with an appetite for deception and have you squinting yours eyes in fearful anticipation of when she’ll strike.
Another Canadian, the Vancouver born Nicole Muñoz stars as the disquieted Leah. Muñoz dark assets heighten her disdain and resentment she evokes out from her character toward her mother, played by the former “The Walking Dead’s” Laurie Holden. Tall and blond with a more verbose attitude in putting her feelings outward, one would have difficulties placing Muñoz and the “Silent Hill” star as daughter and mother on screen. Holden manages to be the glue that keeps the story moving as Leah rarely has much to the say and is only reactive instead of proactive about her situation, making the two actresses dynamically challenging that purposefully sparks uneasiness in every scene. Leah’s friends serve as her lifelines to the world outside her new country home that her mother has unfairly displaced her to. Her best friend Janice, the Toronto born Chloe Rose, whose alternative appearance and nonchalant, cocky persona encourages her to be Leah’s confidant. Rose seemingly enjoys the role that offers vibrantly colorful stripes of hair with lots of gothic makeup that comes complete with leather and plaid outerwear. I was a little disappointed with Leah’s love interest that was Aaron, shoed by the tall and thin Eric Osborne. Aaron really wasn’t showcased much though MacDonald’s script attempts at hinting more to the character, but unfortunately for Osborne, Aaron falls the ranks of a back burner boyfriend trope.
What might be the undoing of “Pyewacket” is simply the timeliness. Robert Eggers’ “The Witch” and André Øvredal’s “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” completely overshadow the JoBro Production & Film Finance (which is kind of funny because the same production company also did some funding for “The Witch” so in essence, “Pyewacket” is “The Witch’s” little cousin) with two already fantastic tales of non-broom riding and mind tampering witches that share the same intense ferocity of pure hatred and dark magic on a much bigger and grander scale when considering production value that relies on a viewer relatable story. A story involving a mother-daughter warfare is inarguably human to us all, but in competition with that, MacDonald seems to embrace that side of the story with slight favoritism as the director is light with a slow burn of the catalytic turn of events that evokes the titular character despite it being the most gripping portion of the film; instead, the focus is more honed in on Leah’s experience that intimately distances her from each of those that are closest to her: Janice, Aaron, her mother. Left in the wind is much of the witch’s background and how the witch becomes familiar to Leah which goes relatively unknown. And, also, not to forget to mention that the witch, or familiar spirit, is screened through shadows, long shots, and quick takes so to get a shape or a image around the appearance, all I can suggest is that Pyewacket resembles Samara from “The Ring” with stringy, filthy hair, slender figure, and moves around like a spider. Aside from a popular teeny-bop occult novelist, Rowan Dove played by “Bitten’s” James McGowan, the only facts touched upon about “Pyewacket” are that the spirit is extremely malevolent and can deceive the perception of people and events.
From Signature Entertainment, the DVD and Digital release of Adam MacDonald’s “Pyewacket” hits retail shelves April 23rd and digital retail shelves even earlier on April 16th. Since a digital screener was provided for this review, an in-depth critique of the video, audio, and bonus material will not be covered. Though clutching to the money-bagged coattails of bigger, better witch films from the last three years, “Pyewacket” is still a mighty story with complex characters complete with sheer dread from an obscure and grievously sorcery crone pure with black heart that will definitely elicit shortness of breath and rapid heart palpitations if watched alone in the dark.
Set a few years after the 1620 arrival of the Mayflower ship, a faith-entrenched Puritan family becomes ostracized by a tightly knit plantation community and leave their home to settle near a woodland landscape. The family of seven build upon their quaint home, growing crops for food and for trade, but when the youngest child, an infant, disappears into the depths of the dark woods, the family slowly starts to unravel at the inexplicableness of their loss. The once tranquil and beauty of the woods dreadfully alter into a coven for dark and fear inducing figures that root themselves between the family binds, untying their sanity and faith that once held them close and separating them toward a Godless path of destructive witchery.
Writer-director Robert Eggers’s “The Witch” steps into a time machine and travels back in time to the New World era and delivers an American Folklore horror film that’s honestly genuine and deeply haunting. Eggers constructs a mood and tone stripped of comfortable commodities from the moment the family takes on the New World for the very first time away from the plantation. The isolation is immense, the tension is thick, and the cast and crew dynamic squeezes tight around the heart, ripping out every raw emotion and turning the display into a gut-wrenching performance. Eggers had done the appropriate leg work by researching various diaries, folklore tales, and recorded accounts of the time to achieve elaborate detail; even the dialect is true to the period.
The film’s devil worshipping namesake ghastly conjures a simple, yet legendary form. Without the use of glossy special effects, “The Witch” mesmerizes with practical makeup, slight of hand editing, and implied black enchantment while pulling at our internal sinful desires of the flesh, lust and deceit. Eggers kept the mainly nude Bathsheba Garnett in the shadows to give the menacing Witch a closing-in threatening appeal that corners an easy prey, such as children. The Witch’s power, a contractual perk with the devil, is vast and unholy that becomes a fierce antagonist to the family’s unnerving, yet powerless faith.
Eggers and his team uses a sepia visual to devoid much of the color as possible from a naturally bleak mid-17th century community style that’s more binary and cramped, setting the stage for doom and gloom. To continue with the adverse affect, an everlasting current of formidable abstracts are implemented for uneasiness. These signs of inauspiciousness can be as obvious as Ralph Ineson’s sonorous voice as the family’s patriarch and resonating religious leader William or can be as opaque as their corn crop turning suddenly rotten or the reoccurrence of a toying hare and an unsteady, long-horned goat named “Black Phillip, who may or may not be the devil himself.
In the midst of the family being torn apart, the eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) desperately tries to keep her family together, but with her mother Katherine (Kim Dickie) in severe grief after the loss of her newborn son, Thomasin absorbs the blame and disdain from her mother. Thomasin’s abuse doesn’t end with her mother, which the story mainly touches upon with each of Thomasin’s parents and siblings, in one way or another, demeaning her. The oldest brother Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) under the spell of hormones repeatedly stares at his sister’s chest, lusting after the female form. Thomasin’s sibling twins Mercy and Jonas remorselessly believe her and label her a witch from the time of Samuel’s disappearance. Even her father, who stood up for her honor and her dignity when neither her mother or siblings would, eventually broke with a misguided view of trust. Thomasin’s world of faith, family, and, basically, everything she once believed in has been stripped away and without that barrier of ideals, a contract with the devil tempts her weakened will.
Lionsgate home distribution releases the horror sub-genre reviving “The Witch” on DVD and Blu-ray. This review covers the Blu-ray release that consists of a MPEG-4 AVC encoded disc that delivers a stunning high definition 1080p picture in a rare 1.66:1 original aspect ratio. The intentional reddish-brown coloring properly dates the era the film is set and the picture is detailed to display the grit, the dirt, and the muck that further enhances the foreboding of calamity. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is crisp and clear, favoring more on the shocking and slightly experimental soundtrack, but still manages to place the dialogue in the forefront, steering clear from the cacophony. Still, I found the dialogue hard to follow because of the puritanical dialect of that time. Bonus features include an audio commentary with director Robert Eggers, the featurette “The Witch: A Primal Folklore,” Salem Panel Q&A, and a design gallery.
Folklore horror hasn’t died just yet. In fact, the sense of a witchcraft resurrection is on the horizon, possessing now a new high profile inside the horror community that’s sure to pick up steam. Newcomer Robert Eggers puts new life into gothic, despondent horror with contrast characters living in a stark reality. “The Witch” will launch Eggers into horror orbit and keep Lionsgate as a friend to the genre.